Israeli study undermines assumptions about fat

For years, people have been telling Santa (and his counterpart Chanukah Harry) to go on a diet. But according to Israeli researchers, he might have the right idea. Toting a few extra pounds in your golden years might be the healthiest thing for you, a recently released study from the Rabin Medical Center has found.

According to findings of the study conducted in the Geriatric Department of Beilinson Hospital at the Rabin Medical Center, in Petach Tikvah, elderly patients with a slightly higher body mass index (BMI) survived longer than patients whose BMI was in the standard range.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight, and is calculated by taking an individual’s body weight and dividing it by the square of their height. The measurement has become a standard in the last few decades for gauging a person’s fatness or thinness. A BMI of 18.5 to 25 indicates optimal weight, while a BMI of under 17.5 indicates anorexia.

“We tried to see if there was a relationship between the BMI of elderly patients admitted to our acute geriatric ward among those who died and those who survived within the years of the study,” said Professor Avraham Weiss, the deputy director of Beilinson’s geriatric department, who led the investigation.

His team reviewed the medical records of 470 male and female inpatients in the Beilinson geriatric ward with a mean age of 811⁄2 who had been hospitalized between 1999 and 2000. Among the measurements taken was their BMI.

The researchers revisited the list in 2004, and discovered that 248 of the patients had died. They then went back and looked at the statistics and found that their average BMI was 24 — considered normal. The patients who were still alive had an average BMI of 26, defined by international standards as overweight.

“What we found is that those who had higher BMI than those who had so-called ‘normal’ range BMI tended to survive longer,” Weiss said.

“However, the study has it limitations.Firstly we looked at only a selected group of patients — those admitted to our ward. Even from among those, we only looked at those who were able to stand on request and participate in height and weight measurement. But even though the group is small, it’s enough to raise an alert about the findings.”

The main conclusions that Weiss says can be drawn from the study results, which appear on the online edition

of the Journal of General Internal Medicine and in the Journal’s January edition, are based on the use of BMI on elderly people. He suggested that the medical establishment review the BMI numbers and consider revising them.

“Probably the criteria being used today for defining overweight for elderly patients shouldn’t be the same for the population at large,” he said. “We need to adopt more flexible criteria.”